With school winding down soon and summer break almost here, kids will have a lot more time on their hands. How can parents keep their children occupied and mentally healthy over the long break?
Dr. Stephanie Hancock, PsychDNP, is the CEO of Pool of Bethesda Psychiatric Health, a trauma care expert and the bestselling author of 24 self-help books. She offers these tips:
Get away: Just like adults, a change of scenery and a break from the everyday routine is important for your child’s mental health. The traditional summer vacation trip might be a little more difficult this year, but even just getting away for a few days can be beneficial. Small day trips can have the same positive effect. Whatever you do, family time builds memories and is good for your child’s mental well-being.
Help them to grow spiritually: Early stages of life are extremely important as kids do their first steps in entering the world of spiritual maturity. You must be the guide for your children helping them to dive deep and explore religions, but you must keep it simple and interactive. You can start with teaching them prayers before meals or before bad, simple stories that can stick to their minds in a positive way, or if you want to keep it more organized, you can stick to certain curriculums. A kids ministry curriculum is a great example when you want to teach your kid about God but keep it playful and organized. This kind of curriculum will help you stay on top of what is being taught.
Help them find a purpose: Teaching kids responsibility and giving them a purpose is important to their mental health, especially over the summer when there is less for them to do. Create a list of daily and age-appropriate chores around the house. If they are old enough, consider a parttime job. Encourage your kids to volunteer at a local nonprofit organization, school, church or workplace.
Incorporate some education: Summer is a time for kids to unwind and have fun. It’s also important for them to stay mentally sharp and incorporate some educational activities into their routine. It doesn’t have to be boring. Consider age-appropriate books on topics that your child will enjoy reading or maybe a weekly refresher class with some friends, so they don’t forget everything they learned this past school year.
Try something new: The days of summer can be long, and you don’t want your children getting bored, so use this time to introduce them to new things they wouldn’t otherwise get to experience. It can be cooking or baking, playing a new sport, playing chess or checkers, attending a lecture at a museum, playing a musical instrument or whatever.
Limit electronics: Most kids love their electronic devices, and in moderation there’s nothing wrong with this. However, too much screen time can have a negative effect, disrupt your child’s mood and bring on stress and anxiety, interfere with sleep and take a toll on their eyes. Age five and under should be limited to one hour each day. Six years and up no more than two hours each day.
Set a flexible routine: Having structure and routine contributes to better mental health for your kids, but over the summer you can be a little lenient with it. Make sure your kids get enough sleep, eat three healthy meals and stay hydrated each day, and get plenty of physical activity. Besides from that, if things don’t go according to plan everyday over the summer, give yourself and your kids a break. It’s okay to stray once in a while over summer break.